30 August 2015

Stashbusting Sewalong: August theme "Face your fears" - Swimsuit

Guess what? I'm a bit chuffed, because for the first time ever, I made a swimsuit! This month's stashbusting theme is all about facing what we fear in sewing. I had originally thought of cutting into some special fabric that I've been putting off using, but after some discussions on the Stashbusting group's Facebook page, I came up with something far more appropriate, and an actual real fear of mine: Lycra.

This is unknown territory for me. I've never made anything from lycra before, and had no desire to either. But I have seen so many beautiful swimsuits that other bloggers have made, and convinced myself that it wouldn't be that hard. What do you know? I found some lycra, and swimsuit lining in my stash. It was a purchase of my husband's, back when he was trying to surprise me with things he had made for me. Needless to say, he didn't get very far with it, and the fabric migrated to my stash. And, it's my favourite colour!

My starting idea for this swimsuit was to make a tankini, starting with the foundation of an underwire bra. Of course I didn't actually have a swimsuit pattern, so kind of had to figure the rest out as I went.

For the bikini bottoms, I started with my undies pattern and worked form there.

The Top
I used my most recent bra pattern for the cups of the bra, and made a few tweaks to the fit and shape, before cutting them out of bra wadding, and covering them with lycra. Warning to anyone else who is thinking of attempting this: the bra cup will stretch, whether you think it will or not. Even though my bra wadding has only a tiny amount of stretch in it, it stretched a lot. So before I tell you anything else, let me tell you that I did have to take a chunk out of the side of the bra cups so that they weren't enormously large and gaping!

I used one piece of lycra each to cover the bra wadding, gathering the lycra at the bottom of the cup, and binding the top edge with a strip of lycra and elastic.

When I say gather, I didn't actually gather the bottom in the traditional sense. I didn't want to try running gathering threads in lycra, so what I did, was to find the centre of the piece of lycra, and then pin a small section at a time to create the look of gathers. When I had it all pinned, I just kept re-arranging the pins until I was happy with how my "gathers" looked, before stitching all the way around the cups, and trimming off the excess.

For the rest of the tankini I started with my stretch bodice block, and overlaid the pattern for my bra cradle onto the front.

I pin fit this (use safety pins if you try this, and save yourself from pins popping off and scratching your sides), and had my husband take the sides in where required. I only took in the top part, and removed about 1.5cm per side (ie an overall reduction of 6cm), blending down to the waist. I made sure to make the changes to the pattern pieces as well, so that if I want to make another one, I can use the pattern again!

I used swimsuit lining in the front of the tankini. For the back, I used swimsuit elastic on both edges of the back band, and the top of the lower back section, as well as both sides of the straps, and the hem edge. I used a plastic bikini clasp in the back, to make it easier to get into and out of, not to mention easier to fit! I just took the back band in until it felt secure enough.

Rather than do any research on how you're supposed to sew with lycra and swimsuit elastic, I decided to wing it! I wasn't sure what to do about pinning elastic on as I was stretching it, so came up with this solution which seemed to work pretty well. I pinned the lycra into quarters, then used a paperclip to mark the elastic, and put the paperclip over the pin. It didn't slip, so I was pretty happy with that little innovation!

My first pass at sewing the elastic I used a narrow zig zag close to the raw edge, and then got up the courage to use the coverpro again. Only one skipped stitch that I could find on the first go! Maybe it likes sewing with lycra?

Before I finished it all up, I tried it on again, and made a few more adjustments to the top so it wasn't too loose. First there was taking in the sides of the bra cups as mentioned above, as well as 1cm from the corresponding front pieces. My original plan had been to put underwires into the swimsuit, but apart from the fact that I was a bit over it by this stage, I felt that it didn't really need it anymore, and it was so stretched out from the original shape that it probably wouldn't have worked anyway! Instead, I just sewed a strip of lycra over the seam joining the cups into the bodice of the swimsuit.

The back band I took in quite a lot until it felt tight enough, and that in turn caused the lower back piece to gape at the sides, so I had to take a wedge out of that piece as well. Always making sure that I kept track of what I did, of course!

Before finishing off the bottom hem, I also shortened the top, and found that the back was longer than the front, so it was a good thing that I checked that before hemming! I had wanted to do straps with elastic on both sides, but found that I didn't have enough elastic left by that stage, so had to make do with narrower straps with just one strip of elastic down the centre.

So many changes! I'll probably re-draft the whole top now.

The Bottoms
To make the bikini bottoms, I had to do a bit more research, and try out my undies pattern again. I made a first pair, and tried out the coverpro to sew on the elastic. I had high hopes of it working perfectly, but, alas, I ended up with a lot of skipped stitches again! *Sigh* I made a few tweaks to my pattern, and then actually looked at some bikinis.

Research - old swimmers that I haven't had the heart to get rid of
Bikinis seem to all be made with just a front and back piece, with the crotch seam further down on the pattern than you generally have for undies. I made some adjustments to my pattern, removing the gusset section, and figured I should probably try it out again. I pulled out an old T-shirt, cut out the pieces, and whipped up the seams to try out the shape. Hurrah, no need for further changes, maybe just taking in a little at the back, but that could wait until I was ready to put in the elastic.

So, onto the lycra! The two bikinis on the right of this photo both have two layers of lining on the front, and one on the back, with the seams sandwiched in the second layer of lining. Since I had enough lining still, I gave this a go.

At least the bikini bottoms came together without too much incident, and very few skipped coverstitches!

The final swimsuit
All in all, I do like this swimsuit. It took all of my spare sewing time over a period of two weeks to make, but I think it's worth it. Some of the seams may be a bit weird looking due to my never ending changes, but the design, and all the sewing is mine. As hard as this was to do, I think I will make another one in future. I don't know the quality of this lycra or lining, so I don't know how it's going to go with repeated use. All the way through this I kept thinking - Next time I'll do (insert pretty much every step of the process here) this way. So even when I didn't think this one was going to work out at all, I was still planning on having another go at it.

The only thing that I had to buy to make this was the swimwear elastic. And yes, I even had the bikini clasp in my stash. I thought 5 metres of elastic would be plenty, but next time I'll buy at least 6 or 7 metres so I know I won't run out.

It's still winter here in Sydney, so you'll have to make do with these photos of me pretending I'm at the beach when I'm actually in my studio. With the next school holidays on the way shortly though, I should have a chance to try them out soon!

But, having now faced my fear of lycra head on, would I sew something out of lycra for other people? I'd say the answer to that one is still no. For the same reason that I avoid any stretch sewing for others except family - it's too hard to fit.


  1. Fabulous, fabulous swimsuit!

  2. Amazing tankini, love the colour and style.

    1. Thank you Sharon. Blue is my favourite colour, I'm glad that's what my husband bough!